Sunday, October 24, 2010

From the Land to the Microchip

From the Land to the Microchip

Just slightly, Jerusalem is turning colder.  On his scooter ride to gan this morning, Ranon turns to me and says, "The wind is making me cold but the sun is making me warm!"  It is that in-between time of year.  The weather is turning a little cooler, yet the sun still warms and, with its dry air, the Jerusalem sun still dries clothes.  I return home from bring Ranon to gan, bring a basket of clothes upstairs and methodically, I hang them on the drying racks we have purchased for the year.

In America, we have dryers.  Truth be told, we have a dryer here too but it is small and so expensive to run that it just makes good economic/environmental sense to keep hanging your clothes out to dry until the sun will no longer do its job.  So instead, we hang our laundry out to dry.  It takes longer, but this morning I appreciate putting in the extra effort.  As I put each sock and shirt in place in preparation for when the sun will be overhead, I think about how this extra effort is an act of love.  I hope that my kids will know that our love of the Jewish people was measured this year, in part, by time spent putting their underwear and socks and shirts and pants out to dry in the Jerusalem sun.  The land, a place of one's own, makes possible all sorts of Jewish expression.

On the way home, I passed an Arab worker employed by the city.  He was pouring cement to put in place the footing for a sign along the walkway being built where the old railroad tracks used to run through Baka.  My teacher, Rabbi Elliot Dorff, once taught me that you can tell a person's true character by how s/he treats people in society who are helpers such as waiters and waitresses, flight attendents, and construction workers.  Both in America and here in Israel - wherever I go - I try, as best I can, to greet such people, to look them in the eye, perhaps say "hello," "good morning" or "thanks for your help."  I try not to ignore them, but rather, as best possible in our modern world, to create a personal interaction.  To create what Buber called an "I-Thou" moment, rather than, "I-It."  So as I passed the Arab worker, I picked my head up and looked into his eyes and tried to say hello, but he just looked passed me, away, and our eyes did not meet, and I felt a certain sadness.  It was just a moment.  Perhaps he was tired and had not had his morning coffee, or was looking for something in the distance.  But I felt a sadness at an opportunity lost for meeting - a sadness layered with the divisions between a laborer and me, between Arab and Jew - and also a sadness that so few Jews do such work here.

So much of the Zionist ethic was about re-invorgorating the Jewish body (see my earlier post) and about having a deep connection with the land.  It was about drying the swamps, making the desert bloom, working the land and, in doing so, expanding the ways in which the Jewish people live out their relationship with God.  Not books and prayer only.  Cement and earth.  Sweat and labor.  Mind and body together.  Some of that ethic is being lost.

There are good reasons.  Israel's strength as a State could not be sustained with an agricultural economy.  With astonishing success, Israel leads the world in technology and innovation (for more, read Start-Up Nation if you haven't already) benefitting not only Israel but humanity with advances in medicine and computers.  I get it.  It is the right thing to do, the smart thing for the future.  So instead, Israel employs Arabs and Phillipinos to build the streets and harvest the fields, often providing higher paying jobs than would otherwise be available to them (though too often also not fulfilling other moral responsibilities that one has towards a minority in one's midst) and, in doing so, freeing up Jews to work in high-tech so that its economy can move into the 21st century.  I get that what I feel is perhaps a certain naive nostalgia for the past which, to be true to its founding mission (to build a State for the Jewish people) could not remain static, but had to change and evolve, from the land to the microchip.  But, in passing the Arab worker this morning, I grew concerned not only at the division it creates when someone else builds for you, but when you lose your physical connection to the land.  And in just that little bit of extra time spent hanging my laundry out to dry, I experienced a sliver of the satisfaction that comes from expressing one's love for God and Torah and the Jewish people, and my children too, through one's body and the work of one's hands.

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